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Mason wins in first NHL start

by Brian Compton /
Manny Malhotra made Steve Mason a winner in his NHL debut on Wednesday night.

Malhotra broke a 4-4 tie with just 1:09 remaining in regulation, lifting the Columbus Blue Jackets to a riveting 5-4 victory against the Edmonton Oilers at Nationwide Arena.

With Pascal Leclaire and Fredrik Norrena both sidelined with injuries, Mason was forced into action and finished with 22 saves. Mason — who was selected in the third round (No. 96) of the 2006 Entry Draft — was making just his fourth professional start. The first three came with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, where he went 2-1-0 with a 1.63 goals-against average.

Mason didn't put up those types of numbers on Wednesday, as he allowed 4 goals on 19 shots over the final 40 minutes. Luckily, though, his offense contributed to the cause and helped him earn his first NHL victory. Of course, he wasn't on the verge of attaining it until Malhotra's tie-breaking goal with 69 seconds left.

"At the stoppage of play I looked up and saw there was 1:09 on the board," the 20-year-old said. "That was probably the longest 1:09 of my life."

Considering the situation — Norrena injured his groin during the morning skate — Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock was both impressed and appreciative of Mason's efforts.
"First game, hard circumstances — (he did) OK," Hitchcock said. "He didn't know he was playing. He's like a lot of our young guys; it's on-the-job training right now."

The teams headed for the second intermission locked in a 2-2 tie before entertaining the crowd with a wild third period that featured four goals in a 4-minute span. Ales Hemsky scored the third of Edmonton's four answered tallies just 47 seconds into the period, followed by Kyle Brodziak's first goal of the season at 2:07 that gave the Oilers a 4-2 lead.

Andrew Cogliano and Ethan Moreau had earlier helped Edmonton erase a 2-0 deficit, as Kristian Huselius scored late in the first before Derick Brassard put the Blue Jackets up by a pair 2:31 into the second.

Oilers coach Craig MacTavish was none too pleased to see his team surrender a 4-2 lead on the road. Edmonton is in the midst of a season-high, seven-game road trip.

"It's a painful, painful lesson," MacTavish said. "There's a right way to play this game and a wrong way to play it and we got on the wrong side of it early and it looked like we were going to get away with it. But we didn't."

R.J. Umberger cut the deficit to 4-3 when he notched his fourth goal of the season at 3:50 of the third. After being held without a goal in his first nine games as a Blue Jacket, the Pittsburgh native now has four in his last three contests. Fredrik Modin tied the game just 56 seconds later when his shot found its way through a crowd and past Dwayne Roloson to make it 4-4.

"The thing that I said at the end of the second period was, 'Let's just go out there and have a good third period and not be sitting on a bunch of regret,"' MacTavish said. "And we're sitting on a mountain of regret right now."

Raffi Torres contributed against his former team, as he picked up an assist on Malhotra's game-winning goal. After firing a shot that was denied by Roloson, Torres followed the play and chipped his rebound over Roloson. With the puck just shy of the goal line, Malholtra was there to poke it into the net for his first goal of the season.

"Raffi got a great shot on net, which I thought was initially in, and I just scored on the rebound," Malholtra said.

Torres applauded his new team's resiliency after falling behind by a pair of goals early in the third period. "That shows that we're not quitting, and we're sticking to it to the end," Torres said.

How long will Mason last in Columbus? Time will tell. But while he's with the Blue Jackets, he intends on making the most of his opportunity.

"Getting thrown in there was a pretty good experience," Mason said. "I think I handled myself pretty well. I made two mistakes out there, but the guys bounced back for me. Obviously, it was a pretty exciting end for everybody. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting into some more games."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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